Every Friday in the UK, thousands of people flock to the nation’s fish and chip shops for their weekly helping of fried fish.
It’s no different in Barbados.
But instead of cod and chips from the chippie, Barbadians head to the weekly fish fry. This is where vendors cook up the day’s catch on the barbecue and serve it with a few sides and some Banks beer or local rum to wash it down.
On the beach. In the open. Lovely.
On Fridays, flocks of tourists (and many locals) head to the Oistins Fish Fry on the island’s south coast to “lime” – that is, to relax in the company of friends.
However, if you fancy something equally as authentic with less hustle and bustle, it’s worth heading to one of the other many smaller fish fries on the island. Especially if you’re staying in the northern half of the Barbados.
One of these is the Moontown Fish Fry, a couple of miles up the coast from Speightstown.
Moontown isn’t a name you’ll find on many maps (some say it’s an invention of local businessman and politician, Denis Kellman). Instead, you’ll need to look for a road named “Sherman Hall Moon Fort” in Clinketts village in the parish of St Lucy.
The Moontown Fish Fry is a much more intimate affair that Oistins, which has more than 30 fish stalls, several sound systems and stands selling crafts and clothing. Instead, there’s two just two locations that straddle the road in Moontown.
One is St Elmo’s bar, on the “land” side of the road. The other is Merton’s Place, overlooking the beach.
St Elmo’s bar is it an unpretentious sports bar, restaurant, mini nightclub, bakery and small grocery store making it the heartbeat of Moontown not just on Fridays but all through the week.
Across the street, Merton’s is an informal al fresco restaurant that sits on the cliff overlooking the beach with views out to sea.
Despite being only one of two establishments in the centre of the village, it would be easy to miss it because the bulk of the restaurant is hidden from the road when you approach from the south.
That’s what happened when we arrived at the Moontown Fish Fry after what felt like a mammoth walk from Port St Charles, which is only about a mile or so away. (The walk along the relatively busy road after dark was hairy to say the least – it’s much less stressful to jump on a bus or grab a taxi instead.)
As we couldn’t see any signs of cooking, we grabbed a seat on the “terrace” at St Elmo’s – a raised patio that looks like it was added to the bar in a hurry – and ordered some drinks from a friendly member of staff who came over to our table.
Karaoke seems to be incredibly popular in Barbados and we were treated – if that’s the right word – to amateur renditions of hits like “Unchained Melody” and “Wonderful Tonight”. This was interspersed with the odd DJ-activated dancehall reggae air horn/klaxon.
Meanwhile, our faces lit up in the darkness occasionally as we sipped on our beers and rum and cokes, due to the disco lighting that was sweeping through the bar.
I’ll be honest – some of us had wondered what we’d go ourselves into here, especially as there was still no signs of cooking and our tummies were rumbling. However, during a 30-second recce after I’d finished off my beer too quickly, I’d popped over to Merton’s to get the lowdown.
So, we paid our drinks bill and headed over the road as a good-natured argument began about one of the dominoes games happening under the fluorescent lighting in the shack attached to Merton’s.
Luckily, the lighting in the main part of the eatery is more subdued with battery-operated camping lamps adorning the plastic tables and the flames from the wood-fired grill providing some light.
There’s plenty of places to sit, all with a view of the barbecue where the chef cooks everything to order. We were lucky to get a table on the weathered timber balcony overlooking the beach where there were several small boats perched on the sand.
The fish on offer tonight was tuna, barracuda and marlin – all caught today in the sea that was breaking gently a few yards away. There was chicken and pork too.
Each option came with a choice of sides, including rice and peas, macaroni pie (mac and cheese), grilled vegetables, chips and salad. All for $35 Bds ($17.50 USD).
I went for marlin with salad, rice and peas and vegetables.
Best rum punch
We also ordered a few drinks, which the waitress brought out first.
I didn’t order a rum punch for myself (it was another Banks beer for me), but I had a few sips of Tiff’s. And it was the most delicious rum punch I’ve tasted in Barbados.
Unlike many places on the island that have it pre-made, Merton’s make it fresh with a generous helping of grapefruit juice. Lovely.
In fact, it’s worth coming for the rum punch if nothing else.
We waited a while for our food, but that was no problem as it meant we could enjoy the smells of the cooking, the sound of waves lapping on the shore and another argument from the dominoes game in the shack next door.
Each time I looked over, there were more empty rum bottles and at one point, I’m sure I saw some dominoes flying through the air…
When our food did arrive, it drew open mouths from around our camping-light-lit table. And that was before had a taste.
It’s hard to describe why fresh fish tastes better, so I won’t bother.
Let’s just say the freshness, combined with the subtle taste of some herbs and the woodiness from the fire made it one of the best pieces of fish I’ve ever eaten. And infinitely better than the fish that comes at twice the price at various higher-end places down the coast.
Even the throwaway cutlery to eat added a certain grace to the meal.
The side dishes – especially the grilled butternut squash – were delicious too. Naturally, I also had a helping of the local “hot sauce” along with a jug or two of tap water to cool my mouth down. And a mouthful of Tiff’s tuna, which was also excellent.
As soon as I’d finished, I was planning my next trip to Moontown.
It’s unfortunate then that at this time of year (January) Merton’s is only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. But it is open throughout the week at busier times of the year.
Adventure and amazing food
If you don’t have a sense of adventure and like all your food experiences prim, proper and quick, the Moontown Fish Fry at St Elmos’s and Merton’s probably isn’t for you.
However, if you want to “lime” like a Barbadian while experiencing amazing food (and questionable karaoke), head up to Moontown on a Friday – or any day of the week. Once you get your bearings, you’ll love it.
Probably best to stay away from the dominoes, mind.
Info: “Moontown” is around two miles north of Speightstown on the coast road. It’s in the village of Clinketts in the parish of St Lucy. It’s walkable from Port St Charles and Speightstown but there are few pavements making it a dicey walk after dark. A good bet is to get a taxi or start walking and hail one of the many government buses, yellow minibuses or Zed-R vans (they’re white with a maroon stripe) that will pass you on their way to the village.